Where Has Yasser Arafat Taken The Palestinians And Where Will Abu-Mazen Lead them Now? Dr. Dan Schueftan, Middle East expert at Haifa University, analyzes the newly evolving situation.
Yasser Arafat, the founding father of a Palestinian state in the making, or the terrorist chief who prevented the Palestinians from achieving a state? And what can be expected of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen), the new Palestinian leader?
Dr. Dan Schueftan is a leading Israeli expert on the Middle East and today he’ll be assessing such issues as the Arafat legacy. Schueftan argues that Arafat always remained a terrorist bent on Israel’s destruction.Rather than fostering the vision of a two state solution, Arafat became the symbol of the Palestinian drive to return to Israel and thereby eliminate the Jewish state. So, if the Roadmap process is to go anywhere, will the first mission of new leader Abu-Mazen be, to tell the Palestinians they will not be returning to Haifa, Ramle, Lod, etc.Schueftan says: ‘Forget it!’ Abu-Mazen is more radical than Arafat was about the so-called ‘right of return’ for Palestinians.Nor is there any chance that the European Community Leaders will follow the example of U.S. President George W. Bush and tell the Palestinians they must accept the reality of a Jewish state and that they will not be going back.
These and other current issues are now analyzed in depth by Dr. Schueftan:
David Essing: Dr. Schueftan, what, in your view, is going to be the long-lasting legacy of Yasser Arafat, the man who achieved Palestinian independence, a Palestinian State, or the leader who prevented the Palestinians from getting a State?
Dr. Schueftan: The leader who, alongside the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, brought calamity on his people and missed every opportunity the Palestinians had in order to get a State that lives in peace with Israel. Arafat always has been and remains, first and foremost, a terrorist who believed in the destruction of Israel. For awhile he pretended to abstain from terrorism but he never even pretended to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish nation State and what you had from the very beginning, and this based on the testimony of Arafat himself, is a person who could not deliver any kind of normal life to his own people. Arafat admits, this is his own admittance, that in 1977 he could have used the autonomy proposal of Menachem Begin to get a Palestinian State, that if he would have accepted, in 1977, after the Sadat initiative, Begin’s proposal, in five years after ’77 the Palestinians would have had a State and let me remind people who may have forgotten, at this time most of the settlements were not established yet. In the heartland of the West Bank of Judean and Samaria you didn’t have the Israeli settlements at the time. So it would have been a State that is based on the 1967 line. What you have with the Palestinians are constantly since the very beginning of this people two elements. The first is the unwillingness to accept a Jewish nation State alongside a Palestinian State. They rejected it in 1937, they rejected it in 1947, they rejected it after the ‘67 War in 1977 and they rejected it lately in the year 2000. And Arafat was the person who gave his people a message when he came back from Oslo; a) I’m cheating Israel. He said it in his own words, with his own mouth in Johannesburg in 1994 that this is basically just a way to cheat Israel--
David Essing: And he’s going to continue the Jihad as well.
Dr. Schueftan: Yes, and more than that, when he to the Gaza Strip his message to his own people was that the kind of Palestinians he appreciates, the kind of Palestinians as far as he’s concerned are representative of what Palestinians should be are those who blow up buses in Tel Aviv, because he comes to the Gaza Strip and immediately starts to glorify Dallal Marabi because she headed a Palestinian terrorist group that killed the largest amount of Jews in one terrorist action. We’re speaking of 1987 where 37 Jews were killed near Tel Aviv in a bus. And he comes to Gaza and he says, this is the kind of role model and constantly he a) supports terrorism and b) never accepts that a Jewish nation State can exist because he constantly commits himself to the right-of-return to the notion that Israel must let the Palestinians, or rather the descendants of the Palestinians who left in 1948 to come back and destroy the Jewish State.
David Essing: So if Arafat became the symbol to the Palestinians that they were going to return to Haifa, Ramle and Lod and so forth, is the new mission of the new, what has been called a moderate leadership led by Abu Mazen and Abu Allah, is their first mission going to be to tell the Palestinians that Palestine is not in Israel but only on the West Bank and Gaza and they are not going back to Israel?
Dr. Schueftan: This may be what we want to the mission to be but it is not the mission. I mean, by his own admittance Abu Mazen says that he was more radical than Arafat concerning he Right of Return. Now Israelis may cheat themselves again as they have cheated themselves in 1993 after Oslo and they can tell themselves any story they like, But Abu Mazen, himself, says, I am committed to the Right-of Return, I am not willing that compensation will substitute the Right-of-Return, the Palestinians must get both – the Right-of-Return into Israel proper and compensation in the many billions from Israel, and he says, I was more radical than Arafat concerning the Right-of-Return. Now, he is more moderate than Arafat when it comes to terrorism because he’s willing to suspend the terrorism that we’ve seen in the last four years. Let me make this point very clear – not to obliterate the option of terrorism, but to suspend the actions of terrorism. And in that sense he’s more moderate than Arafat and in that sense Israel must work with him to try because suspension of terrorism is better than continuation of terrorism. But when it comes to the fundamentals, by his own admittance he’s more radical than Arafat. So if anybody believes that Arafat was the obstacle or the only obstacle, he was part of the obstacle to any kind of lasting peace but the obstacle goes much, much deeper and unfortunately it is not only Arafat, it is not only Abu Mazen, it is not only the existing Palestinian people, but the ethos that the Palestinians have developed, and particularly after Oslo, not only in the years before Oslo, but particularly after Oslo, the ethos that has the support of a very large portion of the Palestinian people, the mainstream, in my judgment is, maybe the Palestinians are too weak in order to undermine the existence of the State of Israel at this moment, but they will not give up the option of doing it, and because this is the ethos and because it goes much deeper than Arafat, then hopes of renewing the Peace Process immediately on the basis that it will lead to a permanent settlement with Israel and the Palestinians is simply not the realistic option at the moment.
David Essing: But if U.S. President George W. Bush has said that in his view the Palestinians should not be able to go back to Israel, if the Europeans, if Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, the other European leaders, perhaps the Arab moderate States, were to tell the Palestinians, once and for all, that they are not going back to Israel, might this not bring about some kind of shift, because otherwise it seems hard--
Dr. Schueftan: Well, if that were the reality then perhaps it would have had some kind of an effect on Palestinians, but it is true what you said about President Bush, it is totally untrue about the Europeans. Unfortunately, the Europeans are not saying, you must obliterate terrorism and completely disassociate yourself from your claim for the Right-of-Return and only then can you negotiate. They’re trying to force on Israel the Palestinians as they are. They are not willing to set this pre-condition that President Bush has set, namely to say that he does not support the Right-of-Return. The Palestinians, the Europeans unfortunately encourage terrorism in undermining Israel, not because they want this to happen but because they don’t put it as a pre-condition to the Palestinians. They’re not saying, if the Palestinians will dismantle the terrorist organizations then the Israelis must negotiate with them and proceed with the Road Map. They’re saying, in spite of the fact that the Palestinians continue with terrorism and don’t even intend, don’t even pretend to intend to dismantle the terrorist organizations and the infrastructure and capabilities, but in spite of the fact that they don’t even pretend to do so, the Israelis must do a, b and c and put the Europeans in control of the whole process. So the message coming from Europe is encouraging the Palestinian intransigence rather than helping to convince the Palestinians that this is counter-productive from their point of view.
David Essing: Well, that brings us to Israel. Prime Minister Sharon has said that he’s going ahead with the Disengagement that he’s adopting a policy of what I would call of ‘no frills’ that the new Palestinian leadership is going to have to prove, not just talk about, halting the terrorism and dismantling the terrorist organizations. Do you think this is the right way to go at this point?
Dr. Schueftan: I definitely think it is the right way and I think it is the right way on both parts. The first part, namely Israel should continue with unilateral steps and not make in conditional on anything because leaving Gaza is an Israeli interest it is no something that Israel does to make the Palestinians happy or make the Europeans happy. It is important for Israel not only to disengage from Gaza but in my view to go beyond it towards disengagements from considerable parts of the West Bank and eventually from the overwhelming majority of the West Bank, so this is one thing where Sharon is right against the critics that he has from the Far Right. Also, the second component is correct. Palestinian promises are, a) ambiguous, and, b) never, never, never, never, never kept. So, the Palestinians, to promise anything has no value whatsoever because first of all when you look at their promises, they’re always booby-trapped and second, even when they promise, they never do what they have promised to do and one-hundred percent of Israel’s experience with the Palestinians is that they never keep their promises, so even if they were to promise, and they won’t, to dismantle the terrorist organizations, they will never do what they have promised, so from an Israeli point of view as long as the Palestinians don’t do it then you continue to do what is good for Israel regardless of what the Palestinians want and, I repeat, what is good for Israel is to disengage, so you don’t condition it on whatever the Palestinians do or don’t, and the second point is unless the Palestinians are willing to completely obliterate, as a pre-condition, their notion of undermining the existence of Israel, the so-called Right-of-Return, there is no point on negotiate a permanent settlement because you cannot negotiate a settlement with somebody who tries to undermine your very existence.
David Essing: But are we not going to be in for a period where we’re going to hear from the, primarily, European Union, perhaps from the Arab world as well, telling Israel that, look, the new Palestinian leadership is very weak, that you can’t expect it now to take on the terrorists that will lead to a civil war, so you should be taking good-will gestures to prop up this new leadership.
Dr. Schueftan: We are taking gestures, or, we are doing whatever is good for us and this is also, should be good for the Palestinians. If we are departing from territories that the Palestinians claim, if we are dismantling Israeli settlements, this should also count as goodwill steps toward the Palestinians. If they don’t consider it goodwill, okay so they don’t and then they can say whatever they want, it doesn’t really matter. Now the point is that these claims we will hear from the Europeans anyway. The point is not that if Israel does ‘A’ the Europeans will be pleased and if we do ‘B’ then he Europeans will criticize Israel. The Europeans will criticize Israel anyway so it cannot have a real effect on Israeli policy because whatever Israel does that is a reasonable policy from an Israeli point of view the Europeans will criticize. The only thing that the Europeans will not criticize is if Israel capitulates to Palestinian demands, so it is not a real consideration. But let me make a distinction here, everything I said about Europe here is true about the European Union. If you look at individual European countries you can talk to them much more realistically. There are elements in Europe who are even friendly to Israel but when you come to Europe as a collective, when you come to the European Union then I don’t thin you can have a real dialogue with them for the simple reason that whatever Israel does they will criticize Israel so that the effect that the Europeans have on Israel is very, very limited because of this reason. Concerning the Arab States, again, even Arab States that understand the Israeli position very well, like Jordan, cannot possibly come out in the open and say it, so their criticism is again to be expected regardless of what Israel does. So from the point of view of an Israeli Prime Minister, you only have two real considerations. The first is, what can he get support from the mainstream of Israel public opinion and the second is, the American policy. And here there is a major distinction between those Israelis and Americans who want Israel to withdraw from the territories, who want Israel to dismantle settlements, to do it in a way that supports the interests of Israel and who would be very angry if Israel would have stopped this process of disengagement. I think that if Sharon stops today this process of disengagement he will be criticized very severely, not only by the American administration but also from the mainstream of the Israeli public. So what he has to consider is what the mainstream of Israeli public and the American administration says and he, himself, understands, after all, he initiated all of this, this was not something that was forced on him, this is something that he understands is necessary and therefore I believe that this is what he will continue to do even though he has serious domestic difficulties in Israel. Basically what Sharon does is the extreme opposite of what the Palestinian leadership does. Sharon understands that the mainstream of his own public wants to be a moderate in terms of the settlements or the needs of the other side and therefore he yields. The Palestinian leadership is not willing to confront the radical elements of its own side while Sharon is confronting at the same time the radical right and the radical left. The radical right that says we should not depart from any part of the Land of Israel and the radical left that basically says, accept the dictate of the Palestinians disregarding the continuation of terrorism and the attempt to undermine Israel. So I think he will pursue this policy among other things because this is what the mainstream of Israelis want.
David Essing: Dan Schueftan, could we turn to Yasser Arafat in the broader context. We’ve been hearing outpourings of, and eulogies about Arafat’s leadership. Some call him the founding father of Palestine and so on and so forth from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on down, but what impact has, for example, the use of suicide bombers had on the global war against terrorism and on al-Qaeda, for example.
Dr. Schueftan: Well, what you have among the Palestinians is the worst possible kind of terrorism that you have anywhere in the world, and this is not because they cause more casualties or they have more acts of terrorism, but because unlike terrorism in other parts of the world here you have terrorism of the worst possible kind, and suicide bombings are the worst possible kind, that is supported by the mainstream of a whole society. I think this is the very negative contribution that the Palestinians have had to terrorism. If it were only a few terrorists or a few radical groups among the Palestinians or the legend that we have heard immediately after Oslo, there are the bad Palestinians namely Hamas, and the good Palestinians namely Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, then you could have said that Palestinian terror is like terrorism in other parts because you will have a minority of people who support terrorism in many other parts of the world. What is unique to the Palestinians is the enormous support of the mainstream of society to the point where even those brings destruction to their own society they still continue to support it. When you have a reality today where parents condone the fact that Palestinian children have one role model that they want to shape their future around namely, the suicide bomber, this is the worst possible thing because it means not only we have terrorism at this point in time but also the next generation is lost because the eight-year-olds and the ten-year-olds of today already see their future as suicide bombers. This is not something that you can switch off. A whole generation that grows up in this atmosphere will continue to go in this direction even though political realities may change. So this is a very, very serious problem.
David Essing: Dr. Dan Schueftan, thank you very much for talking with us today, sir.
Dr. Schueftan: Thank you.